What Is Stock Footage, and How to Get It Cheaply?

Ready to boost the quality of your video production without investing in expensive equipment or organizing a complicated shoot? Stock footage is your answer.

By Matic Broz, editor-in-chief of Photutorial covering stock media, Adobe, and design. He founded Photutorial while finishing his PhD in computational biosciences.

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What Is Stock Footage and How To Use It

Stock footage, sometimes referred to as stock video or B-roll, is video content that is filmed to be reused in numerous video projects. Unlike personalized video content, stock footage comes with very few restrictions. For example, there are no exclusive rights or mandatory credits to the original creator in most cases.

» Already understand the basics? Learn how to use stock footage

Stock footage allows filmmakers, content creators, and businesses to include high-quality video scenes in their work, enhancing the storytelling process. But unlike personalized video content, the use of stock footage provides access to a wide variety of scenes without the hassle of organizing a shoot.

An example of stock footage (Credit: Marian Croitoru/Pexels)

Stock footage is also a cost-effective solution because it eliminates the need for expensive video production, such as hiring actors, setting up locations, or investing in high-end equipment. However, keep in mind that the use of stock footage may be subject to certain licensing terms.

Depending on your budget and needs, the cost of stock footage can vary. There are free resources, as well as premium ones, where the price per clip may range from $20 to several hundreds of dollars.

The key to harnessing the advantages of stock footage, Johnson said, is to integrate it seamlessly with your original content “and create something meaningful and impactful.”

» Ready to find stock footage? See our roundup of the best stock footage platforms

How does stock footage work?

Acquiring stock footage is relatively easy and fast. Numerous online platforms offer a variety of clips that can be bought or licensed. While free stock footage does exist, premium clips usually offer higher quality and more unique content.

The footage you download can be integrated into your video editing software and treated just like any other video file. You can trim it, add effects, adjust color and light settings, or combine it with other clips to create a cohesive narrative.

The licensing of stock footage varies from one platform to another. Some offer royalty-free footage, which means you can use the footage indefinitely without additional fees after the initial purchase. Others might require a rights-managed license, which factors in the usage, duration, location, and exclusivity of the footage. It’s essential to understand the license agreement before purchasing stock footage to avoid any potential legal issues.

» Learn more: Understanding Stock Footage Licenses – A Comprehensive Guide

How to choose a stock footage platform

There are a few factors to consider when selecting a platform to source your stock footage. These include the diversity and quality of the collection, licensing terms, and pricing.

Choosing the right stock footage platform is essential to finding the perfect shot for your video project. But with a wide array of platforms available, how do you decide on the best one? The following guide will help you navigate through this decision-making process.

1. Quality and variety of content

The first and foremost consideration should be the quality and variety of content available. Look for platforms that offer high-definition or even 4K footage. In terms of variety, a good platform should have a wide range of categories, themes, and styles, from urban to nature landscapes, slow-motion to time-lapse footage, and contemporary to vintage aesthetics.

2. Search functionality

A platform with a robust and intuitive search function can save you a significant amount of time. Advanced search filters such as resolution, duration, theme, orientation (landscape, portrait), and even color palette can quickly narrow down your options to the most suitable ones.

3. Licensing terms

Ensure you’re familiar with the platform’s licensing terms. These should be straightforward and allow for broad usage rights. Some platforms offer royalty-free licenses, meaning you can use the footage without limitations on time, geography, or number of uses. However, some licenses may come with restrictions, so read the fine print carefully.

4. Pricing and subscription model

Pricing is another significant factor. Some platforms allow you to pay per clip, while others operate on a subscription model that offers unlimited downloads for a monthly or yearly fee. Decide which pricing model fits your needs and budget. There are also platforms that offer free stock footage, but these usually come with limitations such as lower quality or more restrictive licensing terms.

5. Community and support

An active community and responsive customer support can be a boon, especially if you’re new to using stock footage. Some platforms foster a community where users can share tips, provide feedback, and help each other out.

6. Regularly updated library

A dynamic platform that regularly updates its library ensures you always have fresh and relevant content to choose from. This is particularly crucial if you’re regularly working on ongoing projects requiring new footage.

7. User experience

The overall user experience should be smooth and intuitive. Navigating the platform should be easy, downloading should be swift, and the platform should have a reliable uptime.

8. Review and ratings

Last but not least, check out reviews and ratings for the platforms you’re considering. Other users’ experiences can give you a good idea of what to expect and help you avoid potential pitfalls.

How to use stock footage

Integrating stock footage into your projects should be done carefully to ensure it enhances rather than detracts from your content. Here are some tips:

  1. Match Quality and Style: Stock footage should match the quality and style of your original footage. This includes the resolution, color grading, and overall aesthetic.
  2. Use It Sparingly: While stock footage can enhance your video, using too much can lead to a disjointed narrative. It should supplement your main footage, not overshadow it.
  3. Edit Appropriately: Ensure the stock footage is edited seamlessly into your video. This might involve adjusting the color grading or lighting to match your existing footage.
  4. Consider the Narrative: Each piece of footage, whether it’s stock or original, should contribute to your overall narrative or message. Don’t just add stock footage for the sake of it.

Stock footage can be an invaluable resource for video creators, providing high-quality, diverse content at a fraction of the cost and time it would take to capture similar shots yourself. By understanding how to source and integrate it into your projects, you can significantly enhance the quality and storytelling of your videos.

Whether you’re creating a commercial advertisement, a corporate presentation, or a feature-length documentary, stock footage can help bring your vision to life.

Stock footage vs. original footage

In the original footage, you’re shooting fresh content tailored to your specific needs. Depending on the project, this can be a costly and time-consuming process. Moreover, if you require professional equipment and crew, these elements can add to your expenses.

On the contrary, stock footage is pre-recorded video content available for licensing and use in a variety of media projects. This can be a more cost-effective option, especially if you need high-quality footage of a specific location, event, or theme that would be difficult or expensive to shoot yourself. (Here are our picks for the best stock footage providers.)

“If you want to create a commercial with a tight budget, using stock footage would be more appropriate”

Ideally, both original and stock footage have their place in video production, but prioritizing stock footage can save on costs and time. Most video editors also agree with this idea, but it depends on your project requirements. If you’re creating a documentary about a past event, using stock footage might be the only feasible option.

If you’re creating a personal video project, then original footage might serve you better. (Here are our picks for the best DIY video shooting tools.)

Many businesses already utilize stock footage for their video marketing. You can also create your own stock footage library, but we recommend leveraging existing stock footage libraries first to save on production costs and time.

The table below compares original footage with stock footage.

Original FootageStock Footage
CostsCan be expensive due to equipment, location, and crew requirementsMore cost-effective; requires a licensing fee
TimeTime-consuming; requires planning and executionSaves time; instantly available
UsageTailored to specific project needsCan be used in a variety of projects
QualityDepends on the equipment and skillsProfessionally shot; High-quality

Frequently asked questions

What is the best stock footage site for beginners?

The best stock footage sites for beginners usually offer a wide variety of content, user-friendly interface, and affordable licensing options. Of the stock footage sites we reviewed, Shutterstock, Pond5, Getty Images, and Storyblocks received the highest marks in our list of the Best Stock Footage Sites for Beginners.

Do I need to pay royalties for using stock footage?

This depends on the type of license you purchase. Royalty-free stock footage means that once you purchase the footage, you can use it multiple times without paying additional fees. On the other hand, rights-managed footage requires you to pay each time you use the clip and the cost can vary based on the usage.

Can I use stock footage in any project?

Yes, you can use stock footage in any project – from commercials, documentaries, and corporate presentations to social media posts and website backgrounds. However, it’s important to check the licensing agreement to ensure you comply with the terms and conditions.

Is there a minimum purchase requirement on stock footage sites?

Most stock footage sites offer flexible purchasing options. Some sites allow you to buy individual clips, while others work on a subscription model. Remember, always check the licensing agreement before purchasing and using the footage in your project.

Should I shoot original footage or use stock footage?

The choice between shooting original footage and using stock footage depends on your project requirements and budget. If you’re working on a tight budget or need footage of specific events or locations that are hard to capture yourself, stock footage can be a great solution. On the other hand, for personalized storytelling or unique visuals, shooting your own footage might be the better choice.


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